A player Cates reminds Konecny of says a lot about the Flyers' rookie


Travis Konecny knows what a Sean Couturier type of impact looks like on the ice.

As a 20-year-old, Konecny first found his NHL confidence when he jumped up to Couturier's line. Two years later, he watched the do-it-all center win a Selke Trophy.

In 2022-23, as Couturier missed the whole season recovering from a second back surgery, Konecny still felt like he saw him at times.

The feeling came from playing alongside rookie Noah Cates.

As this season went on, the 24-year-old center started to turn heads with his Couturier-like qualities. His defensive awareness, his step-ahead smarts, his big minutes against the opposition's top lines — a bit reminiscent of No. 14.

"Catesy, it's just really, really impressive what he was able to do," Konecny said a little under two weeks ago at his end-of-the-season press conference. "I played with him and I had an opportunity to play, like, half my games with him and just see what he can do. For him to remind me that much of Coots in his first season is really, really impressive."

In a transitional year that led to significant changes and a third straight season of no playoffs, Cates was a promising sign for the club's future. He has developed from a 2017 fifth-round draft pick out of high school into an NHL player with all-situation upside.

After getting a taste of the NHL in a 16-game audition last season, Cates played all 82 games this season and was the Flyers' best defensive forward. The four-year Minnesota Duluth product was on the ice for 17:46 minutes per game, committed just six penalties and had a plus-3 rating on a team that finished with a minus-55 goal differential. He put up 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) — 28 at even strength, 10 on the power play and two at shorthanded.

He caught Couturier's attention.

"Catesy's one that plays a really mature game," Couturier said. "He's really reliable, he does all the little things right and he's one of those players that you kind of need to build successful teams around and make runs. He's not flashy or anything, but he does all these little things that make a difference in a winning team.

"He's just one of those guys that you can throw out in any situation and he'll find a way to succeed."

Cates, who brings a good blend of hard work and humility, couldn't help but smile when teammates started comparing him to Couturier.

"When that kind of got thrown around toward the end of the year, it was definitely super cool," Cates said. "He's won a Selke Trophy and has scored a lot of goals in this league and just a great leader for this team and this organization for a long time. Would love to get a game with him here soon and I think he'd be a huge addition for this team."

Although Cates projected more as a winger at the NHL level, head coach John Tortorella asked him to play center in his rookie season. Cates handled it really well, but draws were his biggest issue. He had a 39.5 faceoff win percentage. It wasn't for a lack of practice.

As Couturier's on-ice recovery picked up during March, the 30-year-old center helped Cates in the circle. When Couturier won the 2019-20 Selke Trophy, he owned the top faceoff win percentage among all NHL centers (59.6 — minimum of 100 taken).

"You can see how low and strong he can be," Cates said. "Definitely tried to learn. He was always saying to get lower and kind of owning the dot and all those things. You can hear about it, but when you're going against him, you see it and you feel it. I think that was definitely good to see when he was low and just how hard it was and just try to do that to the opponents when we were playing."

With his entry-level deal expiring, Cates will be a restricted free agent this offseason. He'll have a new contract heading into next season.

"I hopefully can be a huge part of this thing moving forward and turning it around," he said.

Konecny, Couturier and the Flyers definitely see it that way.

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